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Yesterday, I noted that in 2017, teams that outrush their opponents have won 71% of games this season.  That’s higher than the rate last season, but it’s generally in line with winning percentages over the last few years.  In fact, for just about all of pro football history, teams have won around 73% of their games, plus or minus 5%.  But if you look closely enough, you can see a bit of a decline over time. Take a look:

It’s no secret that being in the leads to more rushing, so it’s hardly surprising that teams with 7 out of every 10 games when they outrush their opponents. But is the declining trend — over decades, of course — noteworthy? Let’s compare that to what happens when teams win the passing yards battle.:

The trend is basically flat, and while there has been some variation throughout NFL history, teams win about 55% of the time when they gain more passing yards than their opponent. If anything, you might be surprised that the trend line isn’t increasing: after all, given that the passing game is more important than ever, you might think that teams that outpassed their opponent would have a better record now than in earlier eras in NFL history. That’s not quite the case. This year, teams that outgained their opponent in passing yards are 103-75 (0.579) so far.

  • Joseph Holley

    Try looking at Success Rate %, at least for the years where you can.
    Outside of points (duh!), I wonder what metric would correlate best with winning? (not counting totality stats like DVOA/DYAR, EPA/WPA, etc.) My guess=(3rd down+ 4th down conversions for offense) + (3rd down + 4th down stops for defense) / (total 3rd down/4th down opportunities). Not a Vikings fan, but in the game yesterday, FOX showed a stat that they were 1st on offense and 2nd on defense (or the reverse–can’t remember). Seems to be working for them.

    • Good questions, Joseph. I often am not clear when I am short on time, and this was a quick post I put together. But I was not necessarily looking at what metric correlates with winning but rather just understanding how the game has evolved over time. For example, I find it interesting that “winning the rushing battle” has generally meant the team won about 73% of the time, and that the variation is pretty small throughout history (excluding variation due to small sample sizes — i.e., in any one year). I think that’s kind of neat.

      • Joseph Holley

        No problem.
        I just think that while total yards tell a simple story, successful yards tell a better story. The reason that passing yards doesn’t correlate as well is the same reason that rushing does–successful teams pass to get ahead, and then run when they are ahead. The trailing team passes more, and almost half of the time exceeds the total passing yards of the winner.
        I think that adjusted net yards per game passing would give you more correlation w/ win percentage than total yards passing, but for regulars here, that’s pretty much given knowledge, right?

  • Richie

    I assume the title on the second chart (purple lines) is incorrect, and that should be “..outPASS their opponent”?

  • Tim Truemper

    I am with Joseph Holley on his response. I think showing the rushing and passing yards to win percentage was interesting and important. To further extend, rushing efficiency and passing efficiency metrics could tell more.